21 October 2010

Daniel Huws at Mytholmroyd, 17th October 2010

The following is a guest post by Gail Crowther, who attended the recent Daniel Huws event in Mytholmroyd. - pks

Last Sunday I attended a talk given by Daniel Huws in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd. It was a talk filled with stories and poems and wonderful folk songs and a talk that brought alive the house at 18 Rugby Street in such vivid light. Daniel recalled his time at Cambridge where he first got to know Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and his subsequent friendship with both. Given that ‘Last Letter’ had just been published the previous week, it seemed as though the ghosts of 18 Rugby Street featured prominently both in Daniel’s talk and in the echoes of Hughes’ poem about Plath’s final weekend. It was enlightening to discover various elements of the poem that were slightly misremembered (and who of us can say we have never had a false memory?). Daniel felt the poem was written towards the end of Hughes’ life and thus any inaccuracies perhaps due to the passing of time, or maybe even poetic liberties.

But it was the house that lay behind everything, the house in Rugby Street in which Daniel’s father owned a flat, the same flat in which Plath and Hughes spent their first nights together and subsequently a longer period of time in 1959-1960 after their return from America. They were not the only extraordinary residents though. The ground floor had the car salesman who kept his mistress, Helen, and her Alsatian dog, both of whom feature in ‘Last Letter’. However, since Helen had gassed herself three years before Plath, it is not possible that she opened the door to Susan Alliston on that weekend in February 1963. Other residents chart a somewhat tragic history -- the house, full as Daniel described it, of ‘spooks’. There was the widow on the first floor whose husband had fallen from a ladder and died; the Lebanese Drs, mother and son (the son would become the final lover of Susan Alliston before her death in 1969), the loner architect in the top floor flat who drowned at sea in his yacht and the artist Jim Downer who had studied art at Leeds and was friends with the actor Peter O’Toole. Surely a history of this house alone would make a fascinating memoir! The flat in which Susan Alliston lived was a floor above the flat in which Plath and Hughes stayed, so the claims in ‘Last Letter’ that Hughes spent the night in February 1963 in his and Plath’s marriage bed, again may be a false memory. The full facts of this weekend, Daniel feels, are probably yet to be revealed.

The talk ended with a poetry reading – the first Daniel has given for over 30 years – from his collection The Quarry. Highlights for me were ‘A Dawn’, ‘Goodbye’ and an unpublished poem called ‘Debris’. This was followed by folk songs, the same songs that Daniel used to sing sitting in The Anchor in Cambridge with his friends. They were warm and humorous, much like the man himself.

Gail Crowther 19/10/10


panther said...

Thank you to Gail for this interesting report.

I agree that memory can play false. Or just alter, subtly, over time.

And poetic liberties ? Of course. No reason why Hughes shouldn't have been employing them in "Last Letter." As long as the liberties taken chime emotionally with the other material. I don't think Hughes was aiming for reportage, after all ! Which I think is what throws a lot of journalists about most art (not just poetry) : journalists work with reportage, are quite literal in many ways. Whereas poets, painters, etc work with symbols, metaphors, myth.

Kristina Zimbakova said...

Excellent point panther!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you for clarifying some of the myseteries of "Last Letter", Gail! This will be very helpful in peeling back the layers of the poem to see what we can believe might actually have happened that weekend and what, as Panther and others have said, is more along the lines of those symbols, metaphors, and myths.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.